Old Dominion is much better than we thought they would be when they popped up on Vandy's out-of-conference schedule last year. The upstart Monarch football program first began play in 2009 and made a pair of FCS Playoff appearances before transitioning to Conference-USA. Now, in 2014, they have twice the number of FBS wins that Vanderbilt does.
Despite that, the Commodores are 7.5 point favorites at home. Vandy began to stabilize last week in Johnny McCrary's first NCAA start, and the former Army All-American showed more poise and patience than ever before despite facing a tenacious Missouri pass rush. If he stumbles, former starter Patton Robinette is finally healthy and will be available for his first action since suffering a concussion against South Carolina in September.
Vanderbilt has been favored in all three of their non-conference games this year. They've come out of those games with a net -26 score. Derek Mason will have to fire his players up if they want to meet that spread and avoid an embarrassing loss at home. A 2-2 record through a supremely weak out-of-conference schedule would virtually ensure some firings amongst this team's coaching staff this winter.
Can Mason take out the Monarchs and point the Commodores toward brighter days? Or will an emerging Old Dominion team reign over Vandy in Nashville? Let's take a closer look.
Christian D'Andrea: Old Dominion has shown they belong in Conference USA by stepping into the league and immediately putting up points. 34 against NC State. 45 against Rice. 51 against Western Kentucky. For all their flaws, the Monarchs are rarely boring.
Unfortunately for them, their defense was certainly not ready for the jump to the next level of college football. Old Dominion is giving up more than 40 points per game. Only three teams - Tulsa, California, and Western Kentucky have been worse this season.
That means we're due for some fireworks in Nashville on Saturday night. This Vanderbilt team gave up 31 points to another explosive-but-lowly-perceived team when UMass came to town. ODU is certainly capable of doing the same. This points to a shootout rather than a pitcher's duel in Vandy's final non-conference showdown.
Two questions loom for the 'Dores. Will Johnny McCrary continue to play efficiently and effectively at quarterback even with a healthy Patton Robinette pushing him for snaps? Can the Commodore running game get back on track after a dismal showing against Missouri? This team will have to rely on a bounce-back performance from Ralph Webb to answer both of those questions in the affirmative. Webb got shut down against a strong Mizzou defensive line last week, but he should have much more room to run against a limited Monarch D.
If Webb can move the chains, that will make things considerably easier for whichever embattled quarterback is giving him the ball. I think it'll happen. You can't keep King Ralph down for long.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 34, Old Dominion 30
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Arkansas (+10.5) over MISSISSIPPI STATE. This seems like the proper time for something stupid to happen. The Razorbacks are so accustomed to Bret Bielema's constant loud chewing that the sound of cowbells won't even affect them in Starksville.
Andrew VU '04: As CDA pointed out above, ODU can straight boat-race some teams. Vanderbilt, as we've learned time and again, has the surprising ability to make even the worst defenses look perfectly cromulent. That ODU will hang 30+ on us is almost a certainty. Will we serve back? Will Mason stick with the hot hand at QB (McCrary), or go with The General - who, let's be honest, is better served concentrating on his brain health and future as a surgeon. If the starter makes an early mistake, will he be benched? Will Freebeck get another shot some time this year? Will Rivers? Will they willfully set fire to all the redshirts' redshirts? Will the game-plan have some semblance of sense, or will we have another Temple, UMass, UK, or Charlston Southern on our hands? Can you honestly, and with 100% certainty, answer any of these questions?
I can't. (Well, maybe the one about Rivers.)
On the bright side, baseball practice has started, and tonight, the candy will flow like wine.
Will we be treated to an All Saints Day Win or a Dia De Los Muertos Pain-adilla?
My prediction? Pain. ODU's head coach, Rufus T. Firefly, will read that CDA called his Monarchs a bunch of upstarts, and it will fling our two nations into war. Never darken my towels again!
The Pick: Vanderbilt 31, Old Dominion 34.
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Kentucky (+7.5) over MISSOURI. What did we learn last week? Missouri is terrible. Kentucky is less terrible than Missouri. That will be all, class.
VandyTigerPhD: I feel like everything has been said, and I'd just be repeating the comments of my illustrous colleagues above. ODU has definitely not been playing like a team who made the transition from 1-AA. In fact, they're playing like a school that's determined to prove it belongs in 1-A ball. Are we a bad football team? Yes. Is the team improving. YES. I'm sorry, but while it definitely took a while to show, but the team that played Missouri was vastly improved all things considered. In addition, keeping Johnny Mac in all game really gained a small amount of confidence from me in that the coaches aren't totally lost.
That said, this is not going to be an easy game. Don't call a team upstarts when you have only won
The Pick: Vanderbilt 35, Old Dominion 34. I see it as a close one either way. Prove me wrong, Vanderbilt. The only games we won were by the skin of our teeth. Let's show we're not a complete laughing stock tomorrow.
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Tennessee (+6) over Cahalina. On a day where we will lose or almost lose to ODU, it's only fitting that the Tennessee game starts to gain more meaning for the Vols.